Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Former down star hoping for cup double as exiles eye place in decider

Donegal's Cathal Magee.

This Sunday, Down will meet Donegal in the Ulster semi-final in Breffni Park, Cavan.

Forty miles due west, a contingent of Down fans will be settling into the confines of Pairc Sean McDermott, gearing themselves to cheer on the unfamiliar name of London as they face Leitrim in the Connacht semi-final.

Among them will be a clutch of Magees from Mayobridge, there to support their son and brother Cathal, whose three points sank Sligo at the end of May in that historic Championship win for London, their first in 36 years.

Magee is not the only Ulsterman on the team. From Down alone comes himself, Gary Magee of Rostrevor and David McGreevey of Teconnaught. Ciaran McCallion and Caolan Doyle are from Derry, Lorcan Mulvey was a former Cavan footballer and Shane Mulligan hails from Aghabog in Monaghan. The team's strength and conditioning coach is Paul Murphy, from Tempo in Co Fermanagh.

What strikes you first are the occupations of these men. London GAA was traditionally populated by men who grabbed a shovel first thing in the morning and returned it at night. This new wave of emigrants have been forced out by lack of opportunity. They are architects and teachers. Magee, for example, is a quantity surveyor.

The decision for Magee (pictured playing for Down) to go to London was forced upon him, as he explained. "It was a career decision I was at home and working at a call centre. I had graduated 18 months and I was working there. I needed to step up the ladder with my career.

"I tried my hardest to make it work for the sake of Mayobridge. I still miss it, to be honest. I wish I was at home playing with them, but I have no regrets. It's an amateur sport and it is not going to pay the bills or help you do anything in life."

Certain things he misses, of course. The congratulatory messages from home were bittersweet and he enjoyed catching the last few minutes of Down's win over Derry after he finished up in a club game for Tir Chonaill Gaels a few weeks back.

If things had have worked out differently he might have even been playing that day in Celtic Park.

Under Ross Carr, he was called into the Down panel at 19 and won the McKenna Cup in his first year.

"I was going into the senior team a bit early," he recalls. "Unless you are an outstanding player it is very hard to make an impact and I was called in when I was 19.

"We won the McKenna Cup in my first year and I played a bit in the league. But I found I was missing a lot of games with Mayobridge so after a couple of years of that I didn't bother going."

Should he ever get work back home, he knows he could try out for Down again. He is 25 now and bigger, stronger and wiser.

For now though, the chance of a provincial final awaits London, with fellow Division Four side Leitrim, who were rocked by the recent expulsion of four players from the panel for breaking a curfew, standing in their way.

"You don't want to let an opportunity like this pass you by," says Magee.

"It's a great opportunity for both teams to be honest. Leitrim will be looking at it thinking all they have to do is beat London to get to a Connacht final.

"We are sort of the same and both teams are going in with nothing to lose. It's a chance for us to get to a provincial final and it's what I am focused on now.

"To be fair to the players, there has been no real carry-over from the Sligo game, everyone has their shoulder back to the wheel, putting in the work again, which is fantastic."

Over in Breffni, he is not sure of his native county's chances.

"Unfortunately they are running into Donegal. I would dearly love them to beat Donegal but it will be hard to see anyone stopping Donegal, the way they are at the moment."

For now though, that's none of his concern. He is concentrating only on Sunday, 3.30pm in Carrick-on-Shannon.

"Hopefully there will be a few people down there supporting us because obviously coming from London, nobody is really from there in a GAA sense.

"The big difference for us in Ruislip that day was having something of a support. It will be a different story in Carrick-on-Shannon."

But maybe the outcome won't.

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